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Spencer Under Siege

By Stephanie Dunlap · June 1st, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Nick Spencer lay on his horn, trying to scare the johns away from a set of barely pubescent girls and their pimp while waiting for police to arrive.

Already his constant calls to Cincinnati Police hadn't done much to endear him to neighborhood hustlers. So when the pimp reached into a corner trash can, Spencer thought he was going for a stashed gun. He drove off before seeing what came up in the man's hand.

But there's not far for him to drive. This happened right across the street from Alchemize, the Over-the-Rhine bar Spencer co-owns, and he lives only a few blocks away. So his calls over the next few days to District 1 to check the pimp's arrest status were more than academic.

"I want to be able to plan my week on whether or not I can walk outside," Spencer says.

No one at District 1 could tell him, he says.

The May 22 encounter is the latest in a series of clashes with neighborhood pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers that Spencer, a second-time candidate for city council, details on his campaign Web log (http://www.spencer2005.com/blog).

While Spencer praises District 1's head of community oriented policing, Sgt. Maris Herold, he's generally frustrated by the police response to his calls for service.

His calls are put on hold, transferred time and again and finally fed into voice mails that aren't returned, he says. He says routine patrols past the bar are lacking.

When that presence is directly requested, it's severely delayed, Spencer says. He says police took an hour to respond to a call made while the bar was robbed. Then, when they do arrive, officers never seem to know what the call was about, which probably makes it hard to prioritize, he says.

After the last incident, Spencer apparently made enough noise to warrant an e-mail from District 1 Capt. James Whalen. He counted the average length from Spencer's calls to the dispatch of officers at 22 minutes.

"The time the calls waited to be dispatched is indicative of a work overload (or personnel shortage) at the time," Whalen wrote.

Spencer agrees that police are understaffed.

"There is a shockingly low number of police officers on the street on any given night," he says.

So even though the city is quickly running out of money, Spencer is glad that last week city council voted to beef up walking patrols. He would just hire the bar's own overtime police detail, but he says he's required by the city to provide the officers with workers compensation insurance and required by the state to provide it to all employees when he provides it to one. That equals $1,000 more per month even before paying the police.

Spencer says he's tried the Hamilton County Sheriff, but the calls go unanswered. But the crux of the crime problem, Spencer says, is absentee landlords and disinterested business owners.

"I can get six dealers and prostitutes arrested at that building per day," he says. "They're going to be back out in 48 hours."

If the city enforced its buildings and inspections codes and got serious about cracking down on landlords who don't screen their tenants or monitor their premises, the block would look a lot different, Spencer says.

He also blames speculators. He's tried helping fill other vacant storefronts, even offering to help subsidize rent, but those owners aren't interested. They talk about big plans but Spencer suspects they're just holding out until property values rise.

"We talk about the vacant buildings," he says. "I'd love to see a number on how many speculators own buildings here."



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